Psalm 38: No One Else to Blame

Lord, do not rebuke me in your anger
    or discipline me in your wrath.
Your arrows have pierced me,
    and your hand has come down on me.
Because of your wrath there is no health in my body;
    there is no soundness in my bones because of my sin.
My guilt has overwhelmed me
    like a burden too heavy to bear.

My wounds fester and are loathsome
    because of my sinful folly.
I am bowed down and brought very low;
    all day long I go about mourning.
My back is filled with searing pain;
    there is no health in my body.
I am feeble and utterly crushed;
    I groan in anguish of heart.

All my longings lie open before you, Lord:
    my sighing is not hidden from you.
My heart pounds, my strength fails me;
    even the light has gone from my eyes.
My friends and companions avoid me because of my wounds;
    my neighbours stay far away.
Those who want to kill me set their traps,
    those who would harm me talk of my ruin;
    all day long they scheme and lie.

I am like the deaf, who cannot hear,
    like the mute, who cannot speak;
I have become like one who does not hear,
    whose mouth can offer no reply.
Lord, I wait for you;
    you will answer, Lord my God.
For I said, ‘Do not let them gloat
    or exalt themselves over me when my feet slip.’

For I am about to fall,
    and my pain is ever with me.
I confess my iniquity;
    I am troubled by my sin.
Many have become my enemies without cause[b];
    those who hate me without reason are numerous.
Those who repay my good with evil
    lodge accusations against me,
    though I seek only to do what is good.

Lord, do not forsake me;
    do not be far from me, my God.
Come quickly to help me,
    my Lord and my Saviour.

– Psalm 38

Often with David there is a strong awareness of the sins of others. Here however he is conscious of his own failures, are we? It is all too easy said Jesus to be aware of specks of sawdust in someone else’s eye and yet to be completely oblivious to the two-by-four sticking out of our own.

Here David confesses not only his wayward acts (v. 14) but also his stupidity (v. 5), because ultimately the way of rebellion against God is also the way of folly.

Most of the time our suffering has nothing to do with our personal sin. Most of the time we suffer due to the sin of others or simply because we are part of a fallen world (John 9:2, 3).  Sometimes, though, we bring a whole load of suffering upon ourselves and there really is no one else to blame.

That seems to be the case here and there would be more than one possible occasion in David’s life that might fit the bill! We also may be conscious of times when we have not acted as our heavenly Father would have wanted us to, when we have not acted in a Christ like manner, when we have grieved the Spirit and when we have ended up in a mess of our own making.

The good news of this Psalm is that it is okay to acknowledge that we have done something stupid and when we have messed up we can still turn to God who has promised never to leave us or to forsake us.

David speaks of what he is going through as ‘discipline’ or ‘reproof’ (v. 1).  It’s not just God beating him up because he hasn’t kept the rules – that wouldn’t be a God worth worshipping – but this is our heavenly Father who aims to get us back on the straight and narrow, back on the way to life. CS Lewis said pain is God’s megaphone, and sometimes God lets us suffer the result of our sinfulness, not because he doesn’t care about us, but because he does (Hebrews 12:5–11).

God does forgive us but, as David experienced in his own life, it is rare for God to magic away the immediate consequences of our sin because that also might be part of the discipline and part of the learning to be more like the people God wishes us to be.